The APA’s New Guidelines On Treating Men & Boys Acknowledge Toxic Masculinity’s Impact

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The American Psychological Association (APA) creates guidelines for how psychologists should work with specific groups of patients. They have a document for women and girls; one for transgender and gender-nonconforming patients; one for older adults; one for gay and bisexual patients — you get the idea. But, up until this year, they didn’t have guidelines for working with men. And that’s because men have long been considered the “baseline” or “normal” when it comes to psychology.

The APA remedied that oversight in January 2019, when they released their first ever Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men. In addition to the fact that the majority of violent crimes in the United States are committed by men, the guidelines pointed to research showing that are “four times more likely than women to die of suicide worldwide.” But they’re less likely to seek out mental health treatment, because they’re taught to “minimize and manage their problems on their own,” a lesson the APA attributes to traditional masculinity.

Christopher Liang, Ph.D., a psychologist at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania who helped draft the guidelines, said that the guidelines "are intended to help practitioners help boys and men live more complete lives," in a statement emailed to Bustle. "It seeks to address some disparities facing men and boys in health, criminal justice, and education by providing additional factors for service providers to consider when they work with them. I think we can all get behind wanting men and boys succeed."

The guidelines sparked a reaction from conservative commentators, who view the guidelines as an assault on “traditional masculinity,” according to reporting by The New York Times.

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Brittany McBride, Advocate for Youth’s Senior Program Manager for Sexuality Education, says that the conversation about the ways “traditional masculinity” can have a negative impact on boys and men are long overdue.

“These guideline are not new to us who are working in sexual education,” McBride tells Bustle. “For me, personally, reading these guidelines, I was like ‘We’re doing this already!’”

So how can men and boys be helped? McBride believes that comprehensive sex education is an excellent entry point for reaching a population that doesn’t seek mental health treatment elsewhere. She points to Advocates For Youth’s own sex education program as an example of how sex education can help undo some of the negative effects of traditional ideas about masculinity — or even prevent them altogether.

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“How do we address these issues that we’ve highlighted here when the majority of the population is not really accessing the services which we are addressing?” McBride says. "They’re not going to see these doctors. I think that’s the great opportunity for us. Let’s talk about this happening in schools. I think that’s the true key. The primary preventative work around all of the issues that were highlighted by APA is education.”

With that goal in mind, Advocates for Youth has a free, downloadable sex education curriculum that focuses on what they call the “3 Rs: Rights, Respect, and Responsibility.” McBride sees this curriculum as an entry point for addressing the ways traditional ideas about masculinity might be damaging to boys, including teaching kids of all genders how to communicate their needs, set their own boundaries, ask for and give consent, and what healthy relationships look like. More than just “how to put a condom on a banana,” sex education from Advocates For Youth is about providing “honest information to our young people so that they are equipped to lead the lives they want to live as adults.”

“The one thing we can all agree on is we want everyone to be healthy and happy,” McBride says. “So having a healthy masculinity for me is about being respectful of one’s health and happiness and doing the same for others.”